Bill Barnes, 2001
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I will never forget the feeling of being separated from that ship!

Adrift at Sea

By William A.Barnes

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The Japanese attacked Midway Island in June 1942. They were were soundly defeated — a defeat that was later considered the turning point in the Pacific War. Japan lost a large portion of their fleet from which they never really recovered. But, in the early part of 1943, we were not aware of this as we were escortied a convoy of ships to Midway Atoll from Pearl Harbor - a distance of approximately 1,000 miles. We had several troop transports in our convoy — bringing replacement Marines to relieve those who had done such a wonderful job in protecting and defending the island.

While the Troop Transports and the Supply ships were unloading at Midway Island, we did patrol duty just outside the channel opening to the lagoon in the middle of this Atoll. Our duty was to prevent enemy submarines from entering the channel. The channel opening was rather narrow and reefs surrounded the entire Atoll. While on this patrol, a typhoon approached. Typhoons in the Pacific are almost a daily occurrence so we knew it would be rough but not as

Midway Island. Courtesy Midway Atoll, Paradise Found
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bad as happened this time. The winds and rain were terrific. The captain kept the bow of our ship directly facing the winds and rain. Our powerful diesel twin engines were at full speed actually "flank speed" in nautical terms. The winds and rain were winning! We were being blown back toward the reefs. We were all at our battle stations, but this was a struggle that we were losing and losing fast. Our ship hit the reefs with tremendous sounds from the ripping and tearing off of four-inch propeller drive shafts, steering gear, and underwater equipment such as sonar heads, etc. Gapping holes appeared in the hull. We are sinking fast, but, fortunately for us, we settled down between two reefs which acted almost like a cradle — holding our ship upright with the main deck barely clear of the water. Luck was with us!

After the rains and winds passed over, inspection crews come out to examine our ship. They felt that it was salvageable. They might not have if escort ships were not in such dire need. Some of the holes were patched with concrete but our propellers, steering gear and sonar equipment were either completely ripped off or very badly damaged. After about a week of sitting in our

Reef. Picture courtesy Univ. of Missouri-Rolla
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"cradle," it is decided to pull us off the reefs as they really wanted and needed to save this ship. We were too firmly attached to the reefs for one tug so we had a large one in front of us and a smaller one attached to the aft. They were alternately tugging at us in an effort to free us. All of a sudden, the ship broke loose and lunged forward. Unfortunately, the smaller tug aft was sideways to our ship, so the sudden movement turned the smaller tug over and sank it. There were three men onboard the tug. Men from our ship dove into the reef filled waters and swam to the tug hoping to rescue the men. They were able to rescue two of the men, but the third drowned and was never found. The larger tug was able to pull us out into the channel and then into open and deeper waters. We were, of course, powerless to get underway as we had no props, no steering gear, and no sonar. As the saying goes, we were dead in the water.

One of the troop transports had completed its mission at Midway and was ordered back to Pearl Harbor. It was decided to tie us to it and let the troop transport tow us back for repair. Another patrol craft was assigned to accompany us. After a couple of days in tow, the transport signaled us that their sonar had picked up a signal indicating the possible presence of an enemy submarine. They notified us that they would have to cut us loose and increase their speed and "zig zag" to avoid the submarine threat. We then witnessed an axe coming down on that big three-inch hemp rope that held us tethered to the transport. I will never forget that feeling of being separated from that ship. We had a tremendous sinking feeling watching our host ship pass out of sight, slowly fading away over the horizon. The troop transport told us before they left that they would take a sighting of our location and pass it on to Pearl so they could send an ocean-going tug back for us.

Fortunately, the seas were smooth, if only for a short time. The calmness of the sea helped our comfort tremendously. But we are just sitting there - going wherever the tide, winds and waves took us. We spent our days watching the horizon hoping to see that ocean-going tug coming after as - but no such luck! Days, then weeks, went by with no tug in sight – nothing coming to our rescue.

We were fortunate in one thing. Our generators were not damaged so we had electricity down in the sleeping quarters. The desalination water treatment machinery was still working well so we were able to convert salt water into fresh water - for drinking and cooking only. Our food supply, to our dismay, was getting dangerously low. There was not a Kroger grocery store any where in sight. Fortunately, we had a really talented Carpenters Mate aboard who could make almost anything. He made fish hooks from wire so we began fishing for our survival. We had wonderful luck; the fish were mostly poisonous though we did have an ample supply of salmon and Pacific red fish. Each of these fish were about four to five feet long so a little more than one fish would feed our crew of 64. Sometimes when it took more than one fish to make a meal, we had fish as our salad, fish as our main course, fish as our side

This is an original picture of the USS P.C. 590 breaking up under the rogue sea and winds of Typhoon Louise. The site of the picture is out from Buckner's Bay, Okinawa Island. This picture was taken by a Photographer on the U.S.S. Mona Island, ARG-9, Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ship. Commander John B. Payne, USNR, now retired, was Commanding Officer of the Mona Island. The Mona Island came to the rescue of the men and officers of the U.S.S. P.C. 590 just minutes before the P.C. 590 broke in half and sank.
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dishes, and believe it or not, we had fish for dessert. So those beautiful fish were not only tasty but provided and sustained life for us under the circumstances. Weeks continued to pass and still no ocean-going tug. I began to worry that we would soon float into Tokyo Bay. I suspected the Japanese wouldn't give us a ticker- tape parade down their Fifth Avenue!

During long hours watching the horizon, I began to reflect on how I managed to get myself lost in the middle of the Pacific. On the morning of December 7, 1941, my family and I had just come in from church and had one of my Mother's spectacular Sunday dinners. We were living in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I had recently completed my study in accounting at Bowling Green Business University, Bowling Green, Kentucky and was temporarily living with my parents and siblings. After that lunch, we were listening to the radio when the news was announced that Japan had struck Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. We were, of course, in complete shock over this most disturbing news.

I was born on July 15, 1920 so I was about 21 years old and a prime candidate for the draft into the U.S. Army. Now I just love the U.S. Army, but for some reason I just did not want to be a foot soldier. I wanted to be one of those cute sailor boys. So early the next morning, December 8, 1941, I borrowed my Dad's car and drove to Memphis, Tennessee (about 75 miles) to join the United States Navy. When I arrived, there was a line of young men about four or five blocks long waiting to enter the Federal building to join the Navy. I could not believe what I was seeing so I followed the line into the building to make sure this was the "sign up" line for the Navy and not a line of folks waiting to pay more income taxes - or something. In the process of walking down those marble halls staring at that line of candidates I encountered a "Sandwich Sign" that was in the middle of the hallway with a picture of Uncle Sam pointing and saying "I Want You." I was still looking at the line and ran into that sign and sent it crashing to that marble floor. It scared me as much as it did anyone. I was down on my knees trying to correct my blunder when I noticed a uniformed Navy Officer staring down at me. I did not know whether to stand up and salute or just die on the spot - or both. But he reached down and helped me stand the sign back up and asked if I were there to join the Navy. I told him I was, but that long line was kind of turning me off. He said: "Have you given any thought to joining the United States Coast Guard?" I said no and that I had never even heard of this it. I asked him if joining the Coast Guard would keep me from being drafted into the Army. He assured me it would, So I enlisted in the Coast Guard - they had no line and I was the only one there. I was subsequently called to active duty on February 4, 1942.

I was sent to New York City and assigned to what was to become the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Training Center but presently it was a summer beach facility on the shores of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y. They had no uniforms for us but that didn't stop them from giving me a hammer with instructions to start tearing down bath house cubicles to make way for the construction of the training center. I had been told when I enlisted that when I reported for active duty I was to wear "something nice" and not look like a "Hippie." So I had bought a brand-new suit, overcoat, shirt and tie and new shoes . . . I didn't look nice long doing this kind of work.

After doing this for about a month, an officer came to our unit one day and asked if anyone played a musical instrument. I had been told to never volunteer for anything while in the military, but I reluctantly raised my hand and announced that I played a piccolo in my high school band. He instructed me to follow him. I still did not have a uniform, so on my subway trip down to the district office, my tattered and torn "new" clothes gave me have the appearance of one of New York's finest dressed bums, but a new Coast Guard Band uniform awaited me at the office. So now I was a member of the United States Coast Guard Military Band. We played on the stages of all of the major theaters in New York City, including Radio City Music Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House. Our purpose was to encourage more enlistments in the U.S. Coast Guard. So now I was rubbing elbows with High Society instead of those rusty nails in those bathhouses. We had a class act but began attracting professional musicians who wanted to spend their military time in the Coast Guard Band. I just had the feeling that this country boy's days of playing High Society were about to come to a close. So the day came when I was informed that I would have to compete with one of these professional musicians for the one and only piccolo in the band. When I found out who my competition would be, I merely surrendered my piccolo to him and bowed out of the picture.

This is another picture taken from the Mona Island.
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In 1942, Mr. Walter Chrysler, of automobile fame, sold his mansion and estate on Long Island to the government for the expressed purpose of making it into the Merchant Marine Academy. All other branches of the military had academies for training their officers, but the Merchant Marines had none. So I was assigned to Mr. Chrysler's kitchen where I had the fabulous job of washing dishes for the crew making the conversion. So now I was washing dishes.Yesterday I was in
high society playing and even singing at the Met. - look at me now. After a short period of doing this and having that feeling that I was contributing nothing to the war effort, I noticed an ad in the Coast Guard Magazine where a Yeoman 3rd Class was needed desperately aboard a P.C. boat in New Orleans, La. I didn't know what a yeoman was nor even what a P.C. boat was. Nevertheless I called the District Coast Guard Office in midtown New York and told them I was very much interested in this assignment - but I was not a yeoman. They were pleased and said not to worry about not being a yeoman. They would make me one over the phone, and they didn't know what a P.C. Boat was either. Being in New Orleans and closer to home was another attraction for the assignment. My orders arrived that same day, and I was on my way to New Orleans to become a crew member of this ship.

There was a delay in my ship's arrival in New Orleans but when it did arrive, I was shocked to see that it was 173 feet long and 30 feet wide which was much larger than the row boat I was expecting. After the mask was set and the ship tested and loaded with food and supplies, we took off from New Orleans to Cuba, then to Key West where we took on our depth charges, then to Miami for our ammunition and fire power, then through the Panama Canal, San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor. Of course, I have now learned all about P.C. boats. P.C. stands for Patrol Craft and it is not a boat but a ship. The P.C. ship is the only new ship design created by the Navy for World War II. Approximately 369 P.C. Ships were manufactured but during and after the war, all were either lost at sea, damaged, scrapped, or given to other countries. Two years after the war ended none were in the inventory of Navy ships. My P.C. ship was grounded and broke in half as the result of typhoon Louise that hit Okinawa in 1945. It met its demise on the reefs surrounding this island. Sound familiar? The primary purpose of the P.C. is for escort duty to relieve the destroyers so they can be more active in the fighting and combat arena. We not only have the fighting power for anti-aircraft warfare but fighting power for anti-submarine warfare as well. We have two 3" 50mm caliber mounted guns, three 20mm antiaircraft guns, and two large depth charge racks in the tail section of the ship. Enemy aircraft and submarines, should beware of us.

We began our protective escort duties by escorting large convoys of battleships, supply ships, tankers, troop transports, landing craft, LST's, etc. to the various battle areas in the South Pacific. We are on the outside fringes of the convoys "pinging" for stalking enemy submarines and ready for an air attack. The PC ships are known to be the roughest ships to sail on in the entire fleet -- rolling and pitching almost constantly. We put in for flight pay and submarine pay as we would literally sail through the air as we came off one of those horrendous waves and plunge underwater as we dove into the next oncoming wave. In climbing ladders (steps) on the ship, we would have to time our steps with the pitch and roll of the ship. It was impossible to stand still on deck and thank goodness for those life lines. If you bruise easily from banging against bulkheads and rails, a P.C. is not for you. We had no fresh water to shower with so we were real sailors and smelled the part. Of course, seasickness abounded. Although we were a small ship, we were one big fighting machine. So, for almost two years I spent life aboard this ship, and can proudly say that during that period we never lost one ship we were escorting. Our anti-aircraft guns were kept busy, and we were fortunate we did not blow ourselves up with the dropping of those highly explosive depth charges. I was a gunner on the No. 1 20mm gun on the Flying Bridge of the ship and as such was the first one to get to fire at an attacking aircraft. Ironically, I had never fired any kind of weapon in my life until I was shooting at Japanese aircraft aboard my ship. I did not have any boot camp training. I was too busy tearing down bathhouses, playing high society with the Coast Guard Band, and washing all of those dishes at the Merchant Marine Academy!

There were seven children in my family - six boys and one girl. Five of us served in different branches of the Armed Forces. My Dad was a farmer in the Mississippi Delta and served as County Agricultural Agent for Coahoma County, Mississippi. As farmers, we grew up in the country. We kids would often invite our school friends out over the weekend to play. Some would want to bring their BB guns or sling shots but my Dad would not allow any guns, not even BB guns or sling shots on the place for fear that one of us would shoot the other. Any gun, whether real or play, had to be checked at the "Saloon Door," so to speak. Since I received no training in firearms when I was growing up, shooting at the Japanese was my first time to fire a gun. I made sure, however, that the Japanese did not know that.

Back in the 1943 Pacific, a number of us were on deck still looking for that tug boat and praying that we didn't spot Tokyo Bay on the horizon. All of a sudden, a submarine surfaced along side! We were scared to death as we just knew it was a Japanese sub, but it was American - what a relief! They raised their American flag and I think it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen! Before recognizing it, we had all been scrambling to our battle stations. Fortunately, we saw who they were before any shots were fired.

The Captain of the Submarine told our captain that they had been observing us for a day and we appeared to be dead in the water. They had already been to Tokyo Bay sinking some ships on their way. They were now on their way back to Pearl Harbor. Of course, we told them our sad tale of woe. They said they could not tarry long as they could be spotted by a Japanese aircraft but before leaving, they broke radio silence and called Pearl Harbor and gave them our location, wind speeds, tides, etc. so the tug would know this time in which direction we may drift. In a matter of just three or four days, our dream came true - on the horizon was that ocean going tug heading directly to us. Talk about being happy, there were 64 really happy men aboard that ship. This is the very same ocean-going tug boat that had looked for us earlier but could not locate or find us. The Pacific Ocean is truly a big place. So we were dramatically rescued and towed back to Pearl Harbor.

The Commandant for the Hawaiian District ordered that all 64 men of our ship go to the Submarine Rest and Relaxation Center (more

This is an Official Dispatch of the United States Coast Guard notifying all units of the death and Memorial Services for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
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commonly known as the Royal Hawaiian Hotel) for recuperation – it was one lavish and beautiful place. Within a week time, our ship had two new propeller shafts, new screws, new sonar and we were even better than before. So within ten days, we were back escorting ships and convoys to all parts of the Pacific - Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Midway, Wake, Bouganville, etc.

So ends my tale of our Drifting At Sea episode. Bill Barnes Written: March 16, 2005


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